A home win for category champs

Russell Langridge, sales and marketing director, at retail marketing and sales promotion agency HRG outlines how category champions can retain their dominant position.

Russell Langridge
Russell Langridge

With World Cup fever now dominating our every waking hour I’ve been contemplating about what it means to be a true champion.

Jose Mourinho famously shrugged, “Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m a European Champion and I think I’m a special one.”

He was certainly made to feel the weight of that mighty statement but, like a true champion, he forged ahead and proved his claim to be absolutely true- it’s what champions do.

Forgive the parallel but in retail, our category champions are similarly special and dare to be arrogant at their peril.

These are the brands that take the initiative, push their team forward, score first and ultimately win the hugely coveted title of category champ.

These champions, put simply, are the leading brand of a retail category, usually boasting the most shelf space and market share.

How the category champ retains the title in an evolving, competitive marketplace is the billion dollar question that, in recent years, HRG has been increasingly called upon to answer.

The role of a category champion is often a complex one that needs to take in responsibility, compromise, growth, relationships and plan for the future.

RESPONSIBILITY:

Every party, from the retailer to each competing brand expects their category champ to lead the way and accept responsibility.

The retailer will demand the category champion has its finger on the pulse of the market, the consumer, trends, anomalies and patterns. This means the champion must continually splash out on time, research, manpower and planning, all so that they can be afforded the biggest and best shelf space – while the retailer continues to make room on its cramped shelves for the products of rivals who invest little or nothing by comparison.

Competitors, bizarrely, expect the champion’s spending to help them too since the champ’s role is, essentially, to make the category grow.

COMPROMISE:

It’s hard to imagine any champion prospering while their hands are tied but in the category world it is entirely possible.

Any organisation spending the way a champion does on branding will logically look to utterly dominate a retail space with its own fixtures, logos, brand colours and graphics, but the retailer is rarely of a similar mind.

With often strict and rigorous retailer guidelines concerning design and fixtures and a need to provide consumer variety, it takes a high level of expertise to negotiate an end solution that benefits the many parties involved.

GROWTH:

The role of the category champ, then, is not entirely orthodox.

Yet, with careful scrutiny, research and a phenomenal grip on the champion culture, agencies like HRG are providing a bespoke service that has consistently meant increased sales which, naturally, continues to delight blue chip clients.

Through innovative creative solutions, which might mean dreaming up the spectacularly new, redefining a category’s boundary entirely or simply enhancing existing retail fixtures, categories continue to grow and bring to the champions the healthy financial returns demanded by their mighty investments.

RELATIONSHIPS:

When a working situation is as incredibly complicated as the category champion’s is with its many retailers there is always room for the wisdom of a relationship counsellor that understands the culture. We’ve spun a web of thriving relationships that allows us to put the correct people together so that everyone may prosper.

Last year we encountered an astonishing situation where one truly swashbuckling, all-conquering champion had virtually no relationship with one of Britain’s biggest retailers.

The brand needed to develop that relationship so that sales and profits could increase and it could secure additional listings.

PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE:

In my experience the “Store of the Future” work we’ve done is appreciated every bit as much by the retailer as by the category champion.

The retail buyers of this world want their category champions to present an extraordinary vision for how their category is going to look in five to ten years time, and there’s a decent chance they will embrace that vision, effectively saving the retailer an enormity of time and effort themselves.

And clearly, if the store comes into line with the champion’s thinking then the champion’s future looks very rosy indeed.

At the very least presenting this great vision of tomorrow stretches the retailer’s imagination and gets them excited. And it reiterates how ambitious, thorough and enthusiastic the brand champion remains- reinforcing an already strong reputation.

There has been much talk about how interactive screens will play a big role in future retailing. But whilst technology seems the logical way forward, for the moment the required investment levels are too high, even for category champs.

So that’s where we come in. We have the long list of ideas that push hard on the boundaries but do not break the bank.

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